It ain't easy making bold predictions. Harold Camping, aka the Doomsday Minister, swung and missed with his widely publicized assertion that the world would end back in October 2011. The Mayas didn't fare much better this year.
Even when the stakes are less than end days, worthy predictions can be hard to find. Political pundits rarely get it right—unless we're talking about projections from Nate Silver. Sports prognosticators regularly get beaten; it's something Las Vegas sports books depend on. And don't even get us started on psychics or "seers."
Successfully telling the future can be a fickle thing, and yet we think about it all the time. It's in our nature to take whatever information we have and posit a guess on what will happen next. At best, those educated guesses can be hopeful or serve as a warning; even when they're wildly off they can make us think a little more about what's possible, for good and ill. Our list of bold predictions—from both staff and members of the community—aims to broaden our thinking about the New Year.
The Montana Legislature concludes a shockingly punch line-free session
Early signs point to this bold prediction falling shorter than gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill's physical stature. Already, Rep. Jerry O'Neil, R-Columbia Falls, made national news for his request to be paid in gold coins and Rep. Clayton Fiscus, R-Billings, made eyeballs roll with the latest attempt to force public schools to teach intelligent design. The Indy was among those to worry that we were in for another 90 days of nonsense.
It's not going to happen. Yes, there will be nasty fights and sophomoric name-calling over budgets and jobs proposals and natural resource extraction and the environment, as always. But embarrassing fodder like a spear-hunting bill or a declaration of the benefits of climate change or a move to eliminate Barack Obama's name from the ballot will disappear from the agenda—and, just as importantly for our state pride, from discussion on national talk shows. Instead, both political parties will come to realize that constituents want to see a blue-collar effort this session that focuses on credible solutions to real problems. There can be wildly divergent impressions over what constitutes a "credible solution," and spirited debate to establish the best one, but it will not include the sideshow that became a little too common in Helena in 2011.
Guest Prognosticator: Colin Hickey
founder of MissoulaEvents.net, Missoula Downtown Association marketing and events director, booking agent for Badlander and Palace
Volumen reunite for one last show
Local sci-wave rock legends Volumen reunite for one night only to give their legions of fans what they have asked for: an official last show. Representatives from the Missoula Babysitters Union go on record saying, "It was our busiest night since the Wilco concert of '08." Weeks later, people all around Missoula will be seen smiling and singing the chorus to "Sexy Astronaut."
The Spokanification of Missoula reaches new levels
Put another way, get ready to welcome more national chains to our little valley—and not just out on Reserve Street. Einstein Bros Bagels, a chain originally founded by the folks behind Boston Market, hopes to open on West Broadway later this month, and there are rumors of a Texas barbecue chain moving into another downtown location.
They won't be the only two. College towns are ripe for growing franchises, and there are enough open storefronts near campus and around town to attract newcomers. Expect to see a Chili's, Red Lobster and, finally, after years of unfulfilled rumors, Olive Garden. Cabela's, which recently announced plans to open a Kalispell location, also moves into the Missoula market. Based on recent reports, something is coming to the old K-Mart storefront on Brooks Street. And Trader Joe's will join the recently opened Natural Grocers as another competitor among area supermarkets.
The growth will spark an outpouring of "Shop Local" campaigns and efforts to protect the Main Street appeal of Missoula's downtown. Bumper stickers will emerge reading, "Friends Don't Let Friends Eat Never-Ending Pasta Bowls." It'll take a 2014 bold prediction, however, to see whether the campaigns fail, or if the new chains experience a fate similar to the former Higgins Avenue Starbucks.
John Mayer plays back-to-back benefit concerts at the Wilma; ends second show with proposal to Katy Perry
For those who don't read Us Weekly, People or the Indy Blog, tabloid magnet and celebrated guitarist John Mayer moved to the Livingston area last year and shortly thereafter started dating pop starlet Katy Perry. The power couple has become a favorite of the paparazzi and gossip reporters claim the couple is now "getting serious." Apparently, Perry took Mayer to spend the holidays with her parents.
Anyway, Mayer has taken quite the liking to Big Sky Country. He initially landed here to disappear, but over time has come out of hiding and embraced his new neighbors. The best example is a Jan. 16 concert, along with Zac Brown, at Bozeman's Emerson Theatre to benefit the firefighters who battled last summer's devastating Pine Creek Fire. It's already sold out.
We predict that sort of locally focused generosity continues as the year goes on, and culminates with Mayer playing back-to-back nights at the Wilma, with a portion of the proceeds going to a local charity. Each show is billed as "John Mayer and guests," and features a revolving door of big names that Mayer has worked with in the past, including Kanye West, Frank Ocean and Demi Lovato. On the second night, Mayer brings out Perry for a duet of "Half of My Heart." At the end of the song he announces to the crowd—just like Kanye recently announced on stage that he and Kim Kardashian are having a baby—that Perry is the one who has "all of his heart," and that they're engaged. Sadly, this becomes the biggest national story out of Missoula all year.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer announces a 2016 presidential run
The rumors have swirled for months in newspapers, on television and from barstools that Schweitzer will run for president in 2016. Each time the soon-to-be-former governor is asked about his intentions, however, he demurs, avoids the question altogether or turns it into some dismissive punch line. Despite his caginess, we can't help but think that Schweitzer, who clearly loves the limelight, will step up at least to raise his already rising national visibility.
The best evidence to support this prediction occurred in early December on CNN's "State of the Union with Candy Crowley," when Schweitzer nearly came out and said he was running. "I'm governor of Montana until January," Schweitzer told Crowley. "At that point, I'll no longer have a governor's mansion. I won't have a driver. I won't have security, so I'll have a little time on my hands. I think I did mention that I have a warm regard for the people of Iowa and New Hampshire."
That nod to two key primary states led to days of new headlines about Schweitzer's future. There's no doubt the headlines will continue—and lead to an official run for the nation's highest office.
Republicans line up to challenge Max Baucus; campaign spending goes through the roof
Sen. Max Baucus isn't up for re-election until fall of 2014. Nobody's even announced a challenge yet. But the campaign ads have already started, and it's only going to get worse in the new year.
Republicans will come crawling out of the woodwork, making Montana's Republican Senate primary vaguely reminiscent of the 2012 Republican presidential primary. Rep. Steve Daines, elected to the U.S. House this year, will throw his name in the hat. He exhibited his Senate aspirations in early 2011, briefly declaring against Sen. Jon Tester before Denny Rehberg entered the fray. Former state Sen. Ryan Zinke will make a run, too, after his failed attempt at claiming the office of lieutenant governor alongside 2012 gubernatorial candidate Neil Livingstone. However, the conservative spotlight will inevitably fall on the young Corey Stapleton, a runner-up in the 2012 primary whom former state Sen. Bob Keenan declared "absolutely the most electable Republican" on the gubernatorial ticket.
Outside spending for and against Baucus in 2013 will make last year's Tester-Rehberg race look like a dollar-menu item at McDonald's. Democratic PACs and liberal-leaning nonprofits will pony up $4 million by the end of 2013 in an effort to maintain the party's Senate majority. Third-party conservative groups will dole out more than $3 million opposing the incumbent, though after backing so many losing candidates in 2012, those same groups will ease off on attack ads in favor of grassroots networking. All told, the 2014 Montana Senate race will see roughly $8 million in total spending before it even reaches the actual election year.
Guest Prognosticator: Caitlin Copple
city councilwoman, regional development organizer for Pride Foundation
Four of Montana's largest cities embrace LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances
So far, just Missoula and Helena have LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances. Bozeman is the next place where the Montana Human Rights Network will lead the campaign to protect LGBT people from being fired, denied housing or public accommodations just because of who they are or whom they love.
The true test will come this fall, when the campaign will move to Billings, and all the organizations in the movement are gearing up for a tougher fight. A win in Billings would be huge, since it is the most populous city in the state and seen as a bellwether for Montana politics. As the Montana representative for Pride Foundation, the world's largest LGBT community foundation, I will continue to help our grantees with their efforts to make our state a safer and more welcoming place for all its citizens.
Guest Prognosticator: Dan Brooks
Indy columnist and writer at combatblog.net
Montana's medical marijuana law becomes moot
Montana will finally settle on a medical marijuana law, and it will be rendered totally unenforceable by legal recreational dope in Washington state. Western Montana will be the equivalent of a dry county: a place you get through to get to where it's legal, even for local residents. The Montanans of 2013 will watch holo-films of the year 2011, when the state legislature acted swiftly to stop a growing industry, and wonder if we might have been what's now Washington's growing industry.
Guest Prognosticator: James Grunke
CEO Missoula Economic Partnership
Missoula experiences a robust economic rebound
The pent-up demand from the last three years is ready to release. We're going to see new hires. We're going to see current businesses expanding. We're going to have companies relocating to Missoula. It's easy to say "baloney" to this, but we're talking to two, three, four or five businesses each and every week that are looking for opportunity in Missoula. All indications say we're in for a good rebound, finally.
Construction of the Keystone Pipeline in Montana stalls amid more protest
Few environmental issues are as polarizing as TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The massive project calls for a pipeline to run from Alberta's tar sands south through parts of eastern Montana—including under the Yellowstone and Missouri river—sand all the way to oil refineries in southern Texas. State officials and Montana's D.C. delegation are firmly in support of it, claiming it brings valuable jobs to the region. Environmental activists have drawn a line in the sand, decrying the tar sands' overall impact on climate change as well as the inherent dangers of such a big pipeline and the possibility of ruptures.
While the process has been slow—President Obama must approve the project since it crosses an international boundary, and he punted on the issue during an election year—it continues to move forward. Last month, the Montana Land Board approved the sale of easements to TransCanada for $741,000. Soon-to-be-former Gov. Brian Schweitzer has gone so far as to guarantee it happens this year. "I have $100 burning a hole in my pocket that I will bet you that it gets built," he told The Canadian Press in February. "I'd say construction will start in 2013."
Despite these developments, it's the activists who win again in the new year. While Schweitzer and other officials are bending over backwards to appease TransCanada, activists in Washington, D.C., and all along the proposed pipeline's route have been staging spirited rallies and demonstrations. Montana resident and actress Margot Kidder was among those arrested last year outside the White House, joining fellow Hollywood stars like Daryl Hannah, Danny Glover and Robert Redford in protest. Even more impressive are the thousands of rank-and-file who continue to come out to oppose the pipeline. These grassroots efforts aren't going anywhere, and the stubborn resolve of the activists ultimately wins out in 2013.
Winter In the Blood makes Roger Ebert's list of top films
The Montana-based film Winter in the Blood finds itself on the revered film critic's list of bests, not only for its sharp anti-hero storyline, but also for its cinematography, which captures the sweeping landscape of eastern Montana and the Blackfeet Reservation. The nod from Ebert puts the reservation and its people on the map for films to come.
Winter in the Blood, directed by Alex and Andrew Smith, is based on the 1974 novel of the same title by the late, great American Indian author James Welch. It chronicles the story of Virgil First Raise, who has become frozen to the possibilities of life, but whose vision quest takes him off the reservation and leads him to surprising redemption. The film stars veteran actor David Morse (The Hurt Locker); a fresh-faced Native American, Chaske Spencer, who is best known for his role as Sam Uley in the Twilight series; and several local actors, including Missoula's own Lily Gladstone.
Though Ebert often chooses well-deserved mainstream films for his list—his 2012 honors include Lincoln and Arbitragehe's also keen on picking sleepers, such as 2012's Oslo, August 31 and A Simple Life. Winter in the Blood seems primed to similarly hook Ebert's attention. It has already been to the ballyhooed Sundance Film Festival in 2011, when it was teased in its pre-production phase to raise awareness and funds. Plus, the Smith brothers were praised for their previous film, 2002's Slaughter Rule. That film starred a little-known young actor named Ryan Gosling who now, of course, has become the hunk of indie films and a favorite for Facebook memes. Spencer and Gladstone will follow a similar rise, elevating the hard work of American Indian actors and putting them on the red carpets of the future.
Guest Prognosticator: Ben Fowlkes
professional fighting correspondent for USA Today and related Gannett media properties, University of Montana graduate and Missoula resident
Montana celebrates its first MMA world champion
Go down to the Access Fitness gym on Brooks Street just about any weekday and you'll find him: Lloyd Woodard, Montana's great mustachioed hope for a world title. You probably don't think of Missoula as the kind of city that churns out great fighters, and for good reason. If you're from here and you want to be a professional fighter, the best thing you could do would be to stick around just long enough to get a few amateur bouts and then move to Vegas or Portland or San Diego or Montreal when you're ready to get serious. Woodard's spent some time in the big gyms, but he keeps coming back here because, like many of us, he can't quit Montana. Somehow, he's making it work.
You know that cage fighting stuff you see on TV? That's mixed martial arts (commonly known as MMA). Woodard does that. He's good, too. He competes in the up-and-coming Bellator Fighting Championships organization (airing weekly on Spike TV in 2013), which is like the UFC, only smaller. The first time he fought current lightweight champ Mike Chandler in 2011, Woodard lost a closely contested decision. This year he re-enters Bellator's 155-pound tournament, where the winner gets a crack at the belt and a chance to go from also-ran to budding superstar. It's the kind of opportunity that can change a young fighter's life, and the 28-year-old Woodard has the skills to win the whole thing—if he can keep his emotions in check and fight smart.
Maybe I'm an overly optimistic homer, but I like his chances. This time next year I think Woodard will be wearing that championship belt, repping the 406 on national TV. In a sport that draws competitors from all over the world—Brazil and Russia are particularly well-represented in Bellator—that's kind of a major accomplishment. It puts Missoula on the map in the fight world, and proves you don't have to train at a big gym to do big things.
Guest Prognosticator: Chad Dundas
UM hires Dave Dickenson as football coach
For the third time in just five seasons, the Montana Grizzlies will be on the hunt for a new head football coach near the end of 2013, when Mick Delaney re-retires after guiding the team to the NCAA Division I FCS quarterfinals. Delaney, who calls it quits exactly two weeks after turning 71, leaves the team in solid shape (Montana finishes 10-4 in 2013) but also at a place that is becoming frightfully familiar to the normally rock-steady maroon and silver faithful: loose ends.
Luckily, his exit also comes at a fortuitous time for the university. After spending much of 2012 simultaneously paying the salaries of both Delaney and fired coach Robin Pflugrad, the school suddenly finds itself with some $300,000 available in the budget to woo a more permanent replacement. In Montana University System Bucks that's, like, a million dollars and it ultimately proves enough to pluck former Griz quarterback and statewide demigod Dave Dickenson out of his comfy perch as offensive coordinator of the CFL's Calgary Stampeders.
Or at least it should, if everybody involved knows what's good for them.
Dickenson, the Great Falls-Russell grad who led Montana to the Division I-AA national championship in 1995, returns to Missoula at a critical time in the Griz Dynasty. Despite the fact that 2013 will represent a rebound year after the botch-a-mania that was 2012, there are still real fears afoot about the future of the program. A litany of factors—not the least of which include an ugly, media-fueled sexual assault scandal and President Royce Engstrom's annoyingly obtuse and poorly planned dismissal of Pflugrad—have left the Grizzlies looking as vulnerable as they have since the rise of the Don Read era.
The hiring of Super Dave alleviates many of those concerns.
Dickenson's status as an in-state legend eases the fitful minds of boosters and message board mavens, while providing a necessary sense of renewal for a town that hasn't felt all that touchy-feely about its football team since Bobby Hauck's players started running afoul of the law a half decade ago. The move truly gives Engstrom the vague "change in leadership" cited as the reason for axing Pflugrad and also buys the president some much-needed political capital with fans who still resent him for never explaining what he meant by that. Additionally, Dickenson's football mind helps improve things on the field, where Montana has become something of a Frankenstein after cycling through four offensive coordinators and two defensive coordinators from 2009-2013.
For the man himself the opportunity is obvious: A chance to return UM to its former glory. If Dickenson can pull that off, it'll not only cement his legacy as Greatest Grizzly of All Time, but pretty much make him a shoe-in to have his face replace the bison skull on the state's next commemorative quarter.
Montana's first wolf-trapping season backfires
The addition of trapping to the state's wolf hunt fails to yield a harvest any greater than last year's total of 166. But the few wolves (and "incidental catches," including dogs) that are caught will only infuriate and embolden the growing contingent of anti-trapping activists and lawmakers, just as photos of trapped wolves and coyotes in Wyoming and Idaho have over the past year.
Guest Prognosticator: Steve Running
regents professor of ecology and director of Numerical Terradynamics Simulation Group at the University of Montana's College of Forestry and Conservation. Also shared in the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Global oil prices spike, sending U.S. gas prices to $6 per gallon
Missoulians will respond to the news in mass by ditching their cars and getting out their bikes—or building or buying new ones, if need be. The city will contribute by designating entire streets solely for the thousands of new bike riders that result.